Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ visit to New Delhi on Thursday has set the process for a Cabinet reshuffle cum expansion in Maharashtra and organisational changes in BJP’s state unit. Fadnavis held a meeting with BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“Apart from extending my greetings to Shah who has just taken charge as Union Home Minister, I also discussed organisational matters. We are keen on a Cabinet reshuffle cum expansion,” Fadnavis said.
Highly placed sources in the BJP told The Indian Express, “The top leadership of the state and Centre are holding extensive discussions to carefully weigh the pros and cons before carrying out the changes in the Cabinet and state unit. Every decision taken is keeping in mind the crucial September-October Assembly elections.”
A senior party functionary said high on the agenda is finding a suitable candidate for the post of state BJP president. It has become necessary following the induction of state BJP president Raosaheb Danve as Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food Supply and Public Distribution.
Commenting on the state BJP’s new president, Fadnavis said, “All issues are being discussed. Apart from Maharashtra, there are some states where party presidents have become ministers in the Modi government. So, all decisions are likely to be taken soon…”
“The party has decided to project a Maratha face as the state BJP president. What needs to be thrashed out is, whether they should go for someone from Western Maharashtra or Marathwada region. Secondly, whether they should trust the charge in hands of older generation or generation next,” a state Cabinet minister explained.
Some are pushing the candidature of senior Cabinet minister Chandrakant Patil, who hails from Western Maharashtra. But the odds against Patil are plenty. He will have to relinquish important portfolios like revenue, relief and rehabilitation held by him in the Fadnavis government. Moreover, Patil is also in-charge of the Cabinet sub-committee for drought. Being second in command in the Fadnavis government, many believe releasing him from administrative duties is not going to be practical.
Therefore, the core committee believes the most pragmatic approach would be to appoint a generation next Maratha youth leader like Sambhaji Patil Nilengekar, who hails from Marathwada region. At present, Sambhaji is a Cabinet minister in-charge of labour and skill development. Sambhaji has worked in the past as the state general secretary when Fadnavis was BJP president in 2012-14. Relatively low profile, Sambhaji has proved his mettle by giving the BJP huge leads in all organisational elections from local bodies to Lok Sabha in Congress bastion Latur, which was in the past led by late Vilasrao Deshmukh and now his son Amit Deshmukh.
The Cabinet reshuffle and expansion and organisational overhaul will be interlinked, sources indicated. “The reshuffle and expansion will be to accommodate new entrants who have quit Congress-NCP to join BJP,” a source said. Another reason cited is, the department of agriculture and department of food and civil supplies and public distribution do not have full-fledged ministers. A year ago, Pandurang Phundkar, who held the agriculture portfolio, died of heart attack. Since then it has been entrusted as additional charge to Chandrakant Patil. Another senior BJP minister Girish Bapat, who held food and civil supplies and public distribution, has moved to the Lok Sabha representing Pune constituency.
Among the names likely to find a place in the Cabinet are former Congress and Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, former NCP leader Ranjitsinh Mohite Patil and former NCP minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar, who joined the Shiv Sena last month, and former Congress MLA Abdul Sattar.